Sunday, October 23, 2011

From Whence I Come ...

I grew up in a modest house. A bungalow on a street of bungalows, dot dot dot, one after another, like Monopoly houses, not hotels.

There was a time when my parents struggled, but that time was before me. I don't remember any lack in my childhood. Not that I was spoiled. Though I did sometimes badger my mother until she gave in.

But I moved from that modest house, with my parents, to a slightly less-modest house. A bit more square footage, perhaps. Certainly more land. That's where my parents live today.

I lived at college for two years in modest dorms. Nice dorms. New. But small.

My first apartment was a studio. And I loved it. Though eventually the day came when I thought it was time to have a grown-up bed. So I found a one-bedroom apartment and that felt like a luxury. It was nice to have a modest bedroom, but the dining room, while rather normal in size, dwarfed my studio-scaled kitchen table and chairs.

And then I bought a house, which felt extravagant. So much space for one person. A basement I wouldn't even use. I've since furnished it a bit but it rarely sees any activity.

The first winter in my house was especially guilt-ridden. I thought of the people sleeping in the streets, on lower Wacker, hoping they found shelters, hoping they'd be OK. Why should I have a whole, warm house, I asked myself, when so many people had nowhere to call their own?

I'm still here, of course. I haven't sold my house. Not in this market. I've thought about downsizing again. I probably will someday.

But this weekend, I've been vexed by stories and shows I've seen that speak to a level of excess I can't understand.

I saw a story in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about a couple who's having trouble, in this economy, finishing construction on their 90,000-square-foot home.

No, that is not a typo. Yes, that's right: a 90,000-square-foot home.

They bought Segways – one for each member of the family – to get around. Inside.

Here's a thought: When bipedalism is not a sufficient mode of transportation for you to get from one end of your home to the other, perhaps your home is too big.

They're building a 7,200-square-foot ballroom. That can host 500 people. It will have balconies.

Most people I know don't live in a 7,200-square-foot house.

Doesn't your heart just bleed for them? At the moment, they're having to make do with their 26,000-square-foot mansion. Such injustice in the world.

And earlier, flipping channels, I stopped on "House Hunters," against my better judgment. The house hunters on "House Hunters" always irk me. But this episode featured a search on the Gold Coast, and I'm always up for seeing what promise to be amazing spaces that I can't afford.

The house hunters in this episode, from what I was able to glean, were two wealthy, single guys who wanted a place to crash in Chicago. This would not be their primary residence. One of them had at least one home, in L.A. The other had at least one home, in Las Vegas. But they were looking for a landing spot in Chicago, and their budget was $1.5 mil.

Yup, $1.5 million for a bachelor pad in the Windy City.

Naturally, they brought along their friend and designer for guidance.

You know how that is.

The first place they saw was a runaway bargain at only $750,000, which would allow them to renovate to their hearts' content.

The apartment had some amazing views. One exposure overlooked The Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue, a protected structure. No chance that a high-rise will ever go up on that spot and spoil the sight line.

The kitchen was perfectly lovely if a bit traditional. White cabinets, stainless steel.

Of course, the friends and the designer agreed, it would all have to be torn out. All of it. For the look they'd want to achieve.

Well, yes, of course. How could a couple of club-going guys, one of whom had tiger-striped hair, who wouldn't be in town very often, possibly abide a kitchen that was entirely modern and functional but just didn't say anything about them?

I had to turn off the TV.

I can't bear to see any more of that shit.

What is wrong with people? How self-absorbed, how narcissistic, how superficial can humans be?

Where the hell has substance gone?

At the end of their lives, will those two bachelors consider their lives well lived because they had a designer kitchen? Who are they trying to impress? What are they trying to say? Why would they want to spend time with people who value such things? How do they spend time with themselves?

The vapidity. I can't take it.

I know I'm no nun. I have my share of comfort compared to many in the world.

But a 90,000-square-foot house? One and a half million on a place to stop by and nurse a hangover?

All I keep thinking is, "Don't you know how much good you can do with that kind of money?"

And maybe they're philanthropic. Maybe they are. But a 90,000-square-foot home? How does anyone justify building a 90,000-square-foot home?

I just don't understand. And I'm quite sure that if I ever came into a gross amount of money, my brain wouldn't suddenly say, "You know what you need, Beth? A palace with 23 bathrooms and a 20-car garage."

My house has one bathroom. And I can touch opposite walls without fully extending my arms. Eyeballing it, I'd say it's 5' x 8'. That includes the tub.

Sometimes, I think it might be nice to have a second bathroom. For when I have guests. That might be my next extravagance.



Blogger Alison said...

This: "She does miss one luxury—the Gulfstream. After they defaulted on the $8 million jet loan, the banks seized the plane. The Siegels can use it only occasionally, with the banks' permission.

Recently, the family boarded a commercial flight for a vacation, making for some confusion. One of the kids looked around the crowded cabin and asked, 'Mom, what are all these strangers doing on our plane?'"

Welcome to the real world, kids. Actually, if you are flying on a plane, you're already privileged. It means that somebody could afford a plane ticket for you.

I's hard to know what to say. I'm extremely fortunate and do not lack for anything material, but I can't even imagine living the kind of life profiled in that WSJ article.

(And I get so annoyed by Househunters. Especially the international version. NO! There's no closet in the bedroom! You're lucky there's a dishwasher in the kitchen! GAH.)

10:41 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Oh, indeed, it irks the hell out of me when Americans, especially, want to buy a house in some other part of the world and essentially complain that the housing isn't American in scale or finishes.

Um, guys? If you want the American standard of living, stay in America.

Yes, in most parts of the world, rooms are smaller. No, you're not going to find a huge bathroom or kitchen in the middle of India.

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

I'm afraid too many people in this country have lost completely the balance between what they need and what they want. And the reasons they want so much are completely twisted - usually to do with egos and competitiveness.

I worked with Larry Ellison of Oracle fame for several years. I once plucked up the courage to ask him how much he really needed.

His answer? "More."

10:46 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Wow. That breaks my heart.

10:47 AM  

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